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Dr. Frances Gertrude McGill, (1877-1959)

Forensic pathologist, criminologist, and teacher

Dr. Frances McGill was raised on a farm in Minnedosa, Manitoba and taught school for several years so that she could finance her education. She started to study law but eventually decided to study medicine. She was exceptionally bright and distinguished herself in medical school. She won the Isbister First Year Scholarship, and when she graduated in 1915, at the age of thirty-seven, she won the Dean's Prize, the Hutchison Gold Medal and the Surgical Case Report Prize. After graduation she worked for a couple of years in the Manitoba Provincial Laboratory and then accepted the position of Provincial Bacteriologist in the Saskatchewan Department of Health, later becoming Provincial Pathologist for Saskatchewan and Laboratory Director. She was appointed Honorary Surgeon at the RCMP Laboratory in Regina and was a lecturer in forensic medicine at the police classes.

In this position she found her true calling. She used her knowledge of law and medicine to become one of Canada's best known criminologists. She analyzed specimens, performed forensic autopsies and helped solve hundreds of murder investigations. She was meticulous in her work and questioned the evidence no matter how straightforward it seemed. Her main motivation was to discover the truth and "she seems to have released the innocent as often as nailing the guilty." (1) In one such instance she was able to prove that a man had committed suicide and had not been shot by the neighbouring farmer with bloodstains on his coat. In order to do this she had the body exhumed and through her careful investigation she realized that only the victim could have fired the rifle so that the bullet entered under his chin and exited through the head. Other famous cases that she solved included the Bran Muffin Case, in which a woman tried to poison her father but succeeded in killing her grandparents instead; the Elsie Burden Case, in which a local boy (and not a migrant worker) was found to be guilty; and the South Polar Case, which wasn't a murder - the victim died of a heart attack. She was impressive in her performance in court and the evidence she gave was always considered important at trials. She answered the Counsel's questions professionally and couldn't be tricked into saying something she didn't mean.

She was respected and admired by the male members of the RCMP who thought she was a "real lady" but also considered her "one of the boys" for the way she was able to endure the hardships and fatigue of her job. In some cases they travelled thousands of miles by dog team, snowmobile and rickety floatplane in order to reach the most remote parts of the province. She was also an avid horsewoman, which endeared her to the Mounties. When she died at the age of eighty-one the Province of Saskatchewan decided to honour her memory by officially naming McGill Lake, north of Lake Athabasca, in her memory.

  1. Hacker, Carlotta. The indomitable lady doctors. Toronto, Clarke Irwin, 1974, p.90

Additional Reading

Hacker, Carlotta. The indomitable lady doctors. Toronto: Clarke Irwin, 1974.

Nitychoruk, M. "100 years have passed since first woman graduated from medical school." University of Manitoba Bulletin v.26 no. 11 (22 October 1992): 6.

Obituary: Dr. Frances McGill, Crime Pathologist. (22 January 1959). (Winnipeg) Tribune.

Obituary: "Miss F.G McGill, Medical Doctor, Police Lecturer Dies". (22 January 1959). Winnipeg Free Press.

Faculty of Medicine Archives - Neil John Maclean Health Sciences Library
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University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB  R3E 0W3 Canada
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